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Artturi Lehkonen’s strong play will force interested teams to step up their offers

If the right offer isn’t there, there’s no harm in Lehkonen remaining in the organization.

Montreal Canadiens v Vancouver Canucks Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

The Montreal Canadiens may have lost to the Vancouver Canucks 5-3 on Wednesday night (or Thursday morning), but Artturi Lehkonen had another great night with two goals and one assist for a three point night.

Lehkonen has always been seen as a great defensive player and was always generating chances but recently, more pucks have gone in the net. It’s making the decision on whether to trade him before the March 21 trade deadline easy on Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes.

Hughes recently spoke to Sportsnet’s Eric Engels, and Lehkonen specifically was brought up.

We’re not trying to trade him right now. I think I’ve said that about a number of players on our team. We’re not trying to trade them, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t receive phone calls with regards to them. And if something happens…

We weren’t specifically trying to trade Tyler Toffoli, either; it just materialized, through a conversation, with a deal we thought made sense for us and Calgary thought made sense for them.

I think I said it before; we’re not looking to do a fire sale here. And the more time we have to evaluate our group and make intelligent decisions, the better off we are.

Lehkonen’s great production on the road trip — six goals and two assists in four games — has put tangible results on top of his great play driving numbers. If teams are interested in trading for him, they’ll have to give Hughes their best offer.

Why is Lehkonen’s strong play making Hughes’ decision easier? Because either a team blows him away with an offer, or Lehkonen remains with the Canadiens.

There’s no rush to trade Lehkonen. Even if he signs a one-year deal as a restricted free agent this summer to bring him right into unrestricted free agency, there will be a trade deadline next season where a decision can be made.

Another option is that Hughes locks the 26-year-old Lehkonen into a longer-term deal that represents the value he brings to the organization.

The Finnish forward was asked after Wednesday’s game how he’s looking at the trade deadline.

“It’s not the first time my name has been dropped so I know the reality of the situation but it’s out of my control. I can’t do anything about it,” he said.

He has found chemistry on a line with Jake Evans and Rem Pitlick, and it’s not difficult to see the potential of that line growing into one that can be a dangerous shutdown line on a contending Canadiens team down the road.

Unlike the situation with Ben Chiarot, where the Canadiens need to get something for him even if it’s not what they might be expecting, Lehkonen doesn’t have that same urgency.

When Hughes evaluates offers for Lehkonen, he doesn’t have to compare it to other offers and play musical chairs, with the risk of not having one when the music stops. He either gets an offer he can’t refuse, or he simply refuses it.

Lehkonen has always had value and helped the team win games, but now the chances are starting to go in, and he’s showing just how important he is to the team.

“On winning teams you usually find guys like that, on championship teams,” said Canadiens interim head coach Martin St. Louis. “He’s a player that many coaches like to have on their team.”